Fourth Amendment

Cato Institute: Rushed FISA debate a disservice to Americans

In the waning days of 2012, the United States Senate pushed through renewal of FISA for another five years. As privacy advocates in the chambers sought to improve the legislation with sensible amendments to address privacy concerns, others, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), fear-mongered or otherwised avoided addressing tough questions about how FISA had been used to collect data on innocent and unassuming Americans.

In a new video from the Cato Institute, Julian Sanchez explains — with some video of privacy advocates in the Senate — why the debate over FISA deserves a more in-depth, serious discussion:

Mike Lee: “We can’t abandon constitutional rights for temporary security”

See Video

During the debate over re-authorization of FISA warrantless wiretapping practices, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) articulately defended the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans.

So much for the Fourth Amendment: Senate passes FISA and Obama will sign it

You mad, bro?

The Senate passed the FISA re-authorization bill this morning:

The Senate on Friday approved a bill reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in a 73-23 vote.

The bill will extend for five years the ability of U.S. intelligence authorities to conduct surveillance of suspected terrorists overseas without first getting permission from a court.

The House already approved the legislation, meaning the Senate vote will send the bill to President Obama’s desk. The president is expected to sign the bill.

You can see how your Senators voted here.

FISA was set to expire at the end of the year, so the rush to renew it lead to some bipartisan fear-mongering from some members of the Senate. Perhaps the only positive was that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) allowed for debate on reasonable, substantive amendments to the bill, though none of them passed. Some members, including Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), didn’t want any debate on amendments that would have enhanced the privacy of Americans or require some transparency from the Obama Administration on how FISA is being used.

The Fourth Amendment Protection Act, offered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), would have protected Americans against warrantless searches of their cell phone records and other similar third-party service providers. This amendment was rejected in a 79 to 12 vote.

Saxby Chambliss: Shut up and pass FISA


Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who has come under fire recently for his support of increased tax revenues, is now sounding off on the upcoming reauthorization vote for FISA. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to allow at least some amendments, some of which would protect the privacy of Americans, to be voted on by the chamber before the bill is pushed forward for a final vote.

Unfortunately, Chambliss believes that no votes on these amendments are necessary and that Reid should just pass the bill, apparently with no questions asked:

Senator Saxby Chambliss, apparently with no regard to the Constitution or the privacy of the public he’s supposed to represent, has apparently complained that any debate is a waste of time after Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to bring up the issue.

Kneejerk reactionism rarely works out like you hope

In light of the Sandy Hook tragedy, renewed calls for gun control is hardly surprising.  This isn’t unusual.  People, now terrified that the same thing could have happened to their children, turn to their elected officials to do something to make the problem go away.

This isn’t the first time this has happened either.  After 9/11, people wanted something that would make sure this would never happen again.  What we got was the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA, and the Patriot Act.  The Fourth Amendment was gutted in an effort to catch “terrorists.”  Our ability to travel freely is now interfered with by a group of people who look more like the cast of a sitcom than a barrier against terrorist acts.  But the politicians “did something.”

Now, in light of Sandy Hook, we find ourselves at the same crossroads.  Battle lines are being drawn as you read this.  People who don’t even consider themselves pro-gun control are calling for limits in the round capacity of magazines.  Others are expecting gun rights advocates to defend reasons why certain features should be legal, rather than understanding that they don’t change the function of the weapon in any way and therefore a ban would be idiotic.

The kneejerking is normal.  On May 31, 2012, I went through it myself.  That’s the day I learned that Kimberly Lynn Layfield was murdered in a shooting at the Cafe Racer in Seattle, Washington.  Kim was a good friend of mine from high school, someone I treasured knowing more than almost anyone else.  My initial reaction? That my views on guns had been wrong for all these years. (For the record, I don’t know where Kim or her family stood on gun control on that day, nor how her family stands on it now)

Senate bill could allow feds to snoop around your e-mail, online accounts

Patrick Leahy

How do you feel about the feds snooping around your e-mail account without a warrant? According to Declan McCullagh, that’s exactly what a bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) would do if passed:

A Senate proposal touted as protecting Americans’ e-mail privacy has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law, CNET has learned.

Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns, according to three individuals who have been negotiating with Leahy’s staff over the changes. A vote on his bill, which now authorizes warrantless access to Americans’ e-mail, is scheduled for next week.

Leahy’s rewritten bill would allow more than 22 agencies — including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission — to access Americans’ e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.

Drones, Drones, and More Drones


The more I write about government oppression and invading privacy rights, the more I think maybe I should get one of those tin foil hats. It’s crazy to think the government is out to get you…right? I’ve written about legislation about flying drones a number of times, but this whole drone war gets more interesting when you really dig into it because there are more drones than just those flying above us.

What about drones on the ground? or underwater drones? The Atlantic had a great piece this week about the different types of drones and what the Pentagon’s vision for those drones over the next few decades. There’s some scary stuff in there. It’s an article really worth your time to read.

Will drones be used for crowd control? Will somebody controlling a drone use more force than a real office on the scene would use? That’s a fair question, one that will unfortunately be answered.

The big question with drones is whether there will always be a human to pull the trigger. How scary is that? The concept that these machines could determine an enemy and decide - on their own - to fire. Um, no thanks. But according to the Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap, drones will become increasingly automated.

Twitter complied with 75% of government requests for information

In what should be somewhat of an eye-opener for political activists from all points of view, Twitter recently revealed that it complied with 75% of requests for information on users associated with various threats or criminal acts:

Twitter received 679 requests for user information from the U.S. government in the last year, according to a report released by the company Monday.

The requests from the United States exceeded that of any other country, and Twitter released “some or all” of the information asked for in 75 percent of these requests, the company said. Twitter added that the requests for user information are typically connected with criminal investigations or cases.

The report represents the first time Twitter has made such figures public. The report included data from Jan. 1 through June 30 of this year, and was published just hours after a New York criminal court judge ruled that the company must hand over three months worth of tweets for an Occupy Wall Street protester.
The company reported that it has received more government requests for user information in the first half of 2012 than it did all of last year.

“These policies help inform people, increase awareness and hold all involved parties—including ourselves—more accountable,” wrote Jeremy Kessel, manager of legal policy at Twitter, in a company blog post.

Kessel also noted that the data guides the company “when making difficult decisions” and developing its policies, such as notifying users when their account information is being requested.

Rand Paul Follows Austin Scott’s Lead on Drone Issues

On Monday I wrote about Austin Scott, the Georgia Congressman who has taken up the issue of domestic drone usage in the House. Now Senator Rand Paul has introduced companion legislation to address the issue in the Senate.

Senator Paul’s press release gave more information about the legislation than I had when I wrote about Austin Scott’s bill earlier this week. According to Paul’s press release, the bill requires a warrant before drones can be used domestically, allows anyone to sue the government for violating it, and makes any information gathered in violation of the bill inadmissible in court.

As I said on Monday, all of that is great. It requires judicial review before a violation of privacy. Where it gets ugly is in the exceptions. The reports on the exceptions in Scott’s bill earlier this week were vague, but Paul’s press release sheds some light on the list of exceptions. The bill excludes national border patrol, instances where drone usage is required to save lives, and times of high risk of a terrorist attack.

We’ll have to see the full text of the bill before passing judgment, but I’m a little disappointed in Senator Paul on this. He’s been one of the few standing up to the exceptions lists that give government the ability to bypass the Fourth Amendment. It’s disheartening to see those loopholes in legislation coming from him.

I don’t know if this is an attempt to play nice with his GOP friends or if there’s something else going on here, but giving loopholes for big, vague, exceptions that allow the government to bypass the Fourth Amendment isn’t Rand Paul’s usual style.

CISPA must be stopped

With the passage of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in the House last week, many of us are still trying to determine the impact of the bill on the Internet and how it will affect users.

There is no easy answer to the question, after all, this is a complex issue in a time when hacking and other cyber crimes are becoming more prominent. But those of us that helped kill the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) because of concerns over censorship, CISPA may indeed be much worse because it essentially ignores Fourth Amendment protections:

According to the bill’s main author, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), CISPA’s main purpose is to allow companies and the government to share information to prevent and defend against cyberattacks. But the bill’s language is written so broadly that it carves out a giant cybersecurity loophole in all existing privacy laws.

The problem is in the bill’s definition of “cyber threat information” and how companies can respond to it. “Cyber threat information” is an overly vague term that can be interpreted to include a wide range of tasks that normally wouldn’t be considered cyberthreats — like encrypting emails or running an anonymization tool such as Tor — and as a result, a company’s options would be so numerous as to allow it to read any user’s communications for a host of reasons.


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